Obesity prevalence in Jordan an alarming, ‘worldly epidemic’

(Photo: Unsplash)
(Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN — A “worldly epidemic,” obesity prevalence is alarmingly high in Jordan among children and adults, putting the population at a high risk of developing Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). اضافة اعلان

Ayoub Al-Jawaldeh, technical expert in the WHO regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean, told Jordan News that obesity in Jordan is “considered to be among the highest among the countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region, making it a risk factor for NCDs.”

In Jordan, prevalence of obesity is 40 percent, while the prevalence of overweight is 70 percent, according to the WHO and Jawaldeh.

The WHO also reported that average obesity among Jordanian males and females is 36 percent.

In an interview with Jordan News, nutritionist Asma Al-Kahlout said: “As associated with metabolic abnormalities, diseases caused by obesity involve diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, fatty liver disease, strokes, and celiac disease — I believe that majority of diseases are directly linked to obesity.”

The Kingdom does not have enough public facilities that encourage physical exertion, and its recreational entertainment industry mostly revolves around food, according to Al-Kahlout.

“This is a key motive for the spiraling rate of obesity in Jordan,” said Kahlout. “Some public facilities, such as gyms, require memberships and are costly and unaffordable for the majority. This limits people’s access to physical activity and discourages them to work on maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.”

Kahlout also explained how her clients vary in weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), and health conditions, which necessitates individualizing dietary plans. Some of these plans include the Atkin diet, volumetric diet, balance diet, low calorie diet, and keto diet.

“Some patients may need surgical procedures to get rid of corpulence, and this solution is only sought out when the patient has very low determination to follow a diet plan,” said Kahlout. 

“Most of my patients come to me after undergoing gastric bypass surgery, or operations as such,” she said.

Psychologist Abdullah Abu Adas told Jordan News that “in many cases, we consulted colleagues in nutrition and in obesity surgeries. We note that the patient's opinion of themselves after losing weight is very positive and they are now able to live their more flexibly. Some of them even got rid of their NCDs.”

“Obesity is one of the negative pathological factors prevalent in Jordan and the Arab region, in general. It can be a cause or a consequence of depression. As for obesity in children, it leads to depression and exposes the child to bullying, lack of self-confidence, and shyness,” contended Abu Adas. 

He added that children with obesity suffer from disturbances in sleep, breathing, and communication with others, and this only increases the burden of obesity on them.

“Fast food habits are among the patterns that contributed to the increase in children’s obesity. During COVID-19, most parents did not adhere to healthy eating patterns, and this only led to an increase in obesity among children, especially with the ongoing online schooling,” he said. 

According to Abu Adas, older people who are obese face issues related to social roles and the inability to perform occupational tasks required of them.

“Obesity in women adds additional burdens on them too, and at times, they do not  feel confident when they gain weight. Hormonal changes also accompany obesity in women.”

As for psychological disorders related to obesity, anorexia has the patient feeling obese regardless of their weight, leading them to participate in weight reduction procedures such as taking harmful medication and exercising excessively, pointed out Abu Adas. 

Bulimia, in contrast, is a life-threatening disorder than leads to binge eating and purging.

“Obesity is a global burden on the individual and his family, and a burden on the health system, with its negative psychological and biological effects on all ages,” Abu Adas said. 

According to a study conducted by Epidemiology and Health in Jordan, men are significantly more likely than women to develop diabetes, hypertension, elevated triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol. 

Results showed that a total of 1,216 participants between the ages of 40 and 50, and 1,288 above the age of 50, were prone to developing NCDs. 

The mean value of systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and fasting blood glucose were significantly higher in men, while the mean values of total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol were significantly higher in women.

A study on standardized prevalence rates of obesity for men and women was also conducted. According to the Intermediate Distribution Frame (IDF) criteria, the age-standardized prevalence of obesity was 60.4 percent among men and 75.6 percent among women. 

As for BMI, it was estimated that three-fourths of both men and women were overweight or obese. 

Using the waist-to-height ratio for the Jordanian population, the study showed that 44.2 percent of men and 47.8 percent of women were obese. 

Another study was done by the Pan African Medical Journal (PAMJ) with 701 participants from governmental and private schools in Jordan, 53.6 percent of whom were male and 46.4 percent of whom were female, with an age range of 12-18.

Findings indicated that students with normal BMI had a BMI of 21.45. Those who were obese, or overweight had a BMI of 29.1.

When asked about the relationship between obesity and wealth, Kahlout stated that “citizens living in poverty are exposed to unhealthy foods that are more affordable than whole foods.”  

This is a common and direct cause of obesity in low-income communities.

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